Drawn from a photo I took for my friend Ezio in Shenyang, China. Despite having taught Ezio how to use the camera on his phone a few time, he can’t seem to stop taking blurry shots of his fingers. So while we were in Shenyang I was in charge of taking photos for him. He kept on telling me he wanted to capture the “beautiful Manchurian faces” around him. Which means I had to walk around on stealth mode and sneak photos of the good people of Northern China.
Drawn from a picture I took my niece when she ran out of the house to meet us. Because we live on different continents, I’ve only seen her twice in my life. When we do see each other, she likes to follow me around and spy on me. She thinks I’m such an oddity because I speak broken Chinese.
A man we met hiking in the mountains of my home town. Penglai, China.
My dad grew up on a farm in Peng Lai (a.k.a. The middle of nowhere) and most of his extended family still lives there. The village he’s from is called Dai West Village and almost everyone there has the same last name as me. My dad has a sister and 5 brothers.
Third Uncle is the family drunk.
First Uncle used to be the family drunk. He died of liver failure. Then Second Uncle was the family drunk. Several years ago he got severe diabetes. Now he drinks weak tea, eats vegetables, and looks sad.
As the family drunk, my uncle goes to the only bar in town everyday and meets the “Heads of Drinking” of other prominent families in the village.
My Third Uncle is really red in the face and rowdy when drunk. He tries to bully everybody into drinking and calls anyone who refuses a little bitch. My diabetic Second Uncle is the only exception.
His son, my cousin with the super long pinkie nail (hereafter Pinkie Nail Cousin or PNC), leaves the room whenever his father drinks. After a few drinks, my Third Uncle points out what a colossal failure PNC son is. This is why my Pinkie Nail Cousin has never touched a drop of alcohol in his life. PNC is funny, soft spoken, and very nice.
When my family went to visit the village during Chinese New Year, Third Uncle became drunk and started yelling at me about shit I did when I was 5. I kept on telling him I don’t remember any of it but it only seems to fuel his anger. So then I just gave up and joined him in describing my abominations. This pleased him excessively.
Every time I see Third Uncle I always wish him health. I’m not particularly fond of him but if he dies, my dad is next in line in becoming the family drunk. Please don’t croak Third Uncle.
I was walking to the bus station from school one afternoon and I heard two little boys talking. One of them pointed me out and said I was his foreign teacher. His friend replied:
Boy’s friend: We have a foreign teacher too. He’s black.
Boy’s friend: Yeah. He’s from the United States and I think his family used to be slaves.
Apparently there was another foreign teacher and he was teaching them about the history of slavery. How did he get these kids to understand what he’s talking about? He must be a teaching genius because I have hard enough of a time getting the kids to stand up and sit down on command. I couldn’t wait to meet him!
On the bus home as I thought about my deficiencies as a teacher, I overheard this conversation:
Older woman: Did you hear there’s a black teacher in the school. He’s going to scare the children.
Young Mother (obviously embarrassed to be having this conversation): The children will be okay.
Older Woman: I’m sure he will scare the children.
How does that work exactly? Are children scared of the color black? Or maybe she imagined that the Black teacher is going to chase the kids around in a tribal mask if they get a question wrong as a part of a proud African-American tradition. I guess you can’t really make sense of ignorance. In any case, good for the school for hiring him despite of what parents may say! I’m glad this generation of children will be exposed to people of different races. They will not grow up as ignorant as their grandparents.
The next day I met the new teacher in the staff room. I couldn’t help letting out a big “Ha!” and laugh. I met Franklin, a sweet Indian boy who spent a year living in LA. He did not in any way look, act, or sound stereotypically Black. In fact, he had a pretty thick Indian accent.
So… The two foreign teachers this school has:
“Spanish” from Australia = Chinese from Canada
“Black” from US = Indian from India
The Overly Enthusiastic One
He sat at the very front of the class always looking grave and serious. He raised his hands for every question I asked. Problem was he didn’t know the answer to most of the questions. When he got a question wrong, he sagged his head and hunched. His facial expression was a cross between a lost puppy and an old man who had lost everyone he loved. It was too funny. I picked him mostly for hard questions.
The Rebellious One
He gave me a really hard time in my first class. He wouldn’t listen to anything I have been saying and kept throwing bits of paper at his classmates. I told him stop. He wouldn’t. I told his to stand outside the class. He wouldn’t budge. At that point I knew that if I wanted any kind of control over the class, it was a fight I had to win. In the end I had to physically drag him out the door by his arms while he kicked and screamed sitting on the floor. Once he was outside, I slammed the door on him. Next class, he apologised and presented me with two origami stars. We were both relieved that it was over. I really ended up liking this one. He was quick, intelligent, and funny. After the big blow out, he was a great student. He still challenged me once in a while and sometimes I would let him get away with it because I didn’t want to crush his spirit. The world would be such a boring place if everyone was docile.
The Dirty Girl
Most of the kids at my school look very well taken care of even if they were poor. This girl looked the opposite. Her uniform was always covered with dirt and her hair always looked lanky and unwashed. While sitting in class, she would always have a finger up her nose, twisting it languidly. Once she collected enough material, she rolled it into a little ball with her thumb and index finger and sent it flying in the air. The worst part was, she kept on wanting to touch me. She would reach out her dirty little hands for a high-five whenever I walked to her corner of the class. I knew she just wanted affection. I wish I could have been more of a grown up about it but I was too busy dodging her booger hands.
The Class Clown
He was always getting into trouble. He actually liked being sent to the back of the class so he could make faces and make the other kids laugh. His constant attention seeking exhausted me. Little dude, why do you have to try so hard? He’ll probably grow up to become a Karma Whore on Reddit. He’d be good at that.
The Know It All
Out of all my students, she probably knew the most English. She knew the answer to every question and always raised her hand high in the air and shouted “Teacher, pick me! Let me try”. If I didn’t pick her she would get this desperate look as if she was about to pee herself. Since my biggest fear while teaching was that one of my students would piss or shit their pants, I called on her a lot. In case she actually wanted permission to go to the bathroom.
When I taught them the song ‘The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round’, she kept on telling me that I got the words wrong. “Sweetie, it doesn’t matter if bus goes ‘bumpdy bump’ or ‘clickdy clack’ first. It’s the same song. Just go with it. Mmmkay?”. She kept on singing the version she learned. “Whatever. As long as she doesn’t pee herself.” I thought.
The One Who was in Love with Me
After a couple of weeks at the school I realised that I saw this Six Grader way too frequently. At least once in the morning, once during recess and two to three times during lunch. When I turn a corner there he would be. He would stand tall, raise his hand, gave me a small wave and said “Hello Teacher!” He always said the same thing. Always the same wave. I found it utterly amusing and I would always laugh a little when I saw him. I think he took it as a sign that I liked him back because near the end of the school year I found him lurking near my apartment building. Not sure if cute or creepy.
The Devil Child
I should have known that there was something seriously wrong because as soon as I arrived, the home room teacher shot out without saying a word to me. She was the smallest girl in grade one. She had a baby doll face with beautiful round eyes. She was an angel, until she didn’t get her way. When she was displeased her eyes would fill with malice. She would ball her hands into little fists of fury, scream and run around the class like a deranged Velociraptor. She punched me with her steely little fists more than once. The beating I could take. But that scream! That horrid high-pitch scream that made all me feel like all my brain cells would burst. Her class learned nothing and watched a lot of Tom and Jerry. I was at the mercy of the Devil Child. I did her bidding.